Post-Graduation Depression is real af.Song inspiration: Ain’t it Fun x Paramore
In undergrad, I thought I had it all together. I felt that unlike many of the people that were around me, I had one chance to get this college thing right. I was a high achieving first gen student. My parents didn’t know much about the ins and outs of the college process and navigating financial aid. I was bright, but didn’t apply for as many scholarships. I wouldn’t have made it to the door of my college dorm if it wasn’t for the help of a massive student loan (that I will forever dread paying every single month). I already had so many things stacked against me before starting. The stakes were high for me and failure was not an option. There wasn’t much room for error. So I went into overdrive.
In order to curb the cost of my expenses and make the most of my experiences, I got involved in Housing and Residence Life (Thank God for free room and board!) I was a part of the Social Work Association and a professional co-ed business fraternity. I was holding down four jobs, (three on campus and one off campus) an internship that was 16 hours a week and was president of the Social Work Honors Society. I was also travelling in and out of the state to speak at professional higher education conferences, all while being a full-time student.
I was doing the absolute most during my time in undergrad in an effort to set myself up for success that by the time I was supposed to actually start planning for my immediate future, I completely froze. My life all of a sudden became the beginning of a BET Original Movie: *freeze frame* Yep, that’s me! You’re probably wondering how I got here…” One thing we rarely ever talk about are the contribution factors to post-graduation depression, how real it is and how to adjust to your new normal moving forward.
The transition from college life to adult life is a lot like that one Mr. Krabs meme
- You’ve been living on some type of semester/block schedule since Pre-school
It took me a minute to realize why my life felt so out of whack at first. Since the age of 5, we’ve been in a consistent loop. School starts in September. You then have a host of holiday breaks and celebrations between September and January. School starts back in January and goes until June. Summer break happens and it starts all over again in September. We’ve been in this loop for 15+ years. This can be an extremely hard pattern to break. It can take some time adjusting to the fact that summer break no longer exists or that the thought of welcome weekend and seeing our friends every day is no longer something getting us through our summer internships. It’s literally just you living life. You get up, go to work and come home.
Universities should implement a “Re-entering the World” class during senior year of college. This is part of the reason why I think we go to graduate school. Besides the obvious desire to seek higher education, there’s still some part of us that does not want to break that sense of normalcy. So recidivism back into our normal habitat is most comfortable. For those of us who have actually gone to grad school or are currently in grad school, you’ve quickly come to understand that grad school is a whole other beast (and that you played yourself trying to hold on to college life a little longer, but I digress). If I’m being honest, I still haven’t weened myself off of the semester schedule because since graduating, I’ve worked within the public and private school systems (Summer break forever!!)
2. Job security is as shaky as your favorite rapper dropping an EP way past their prime
The job search seems endless. No matter how early you start, you still feel far behind. You missed the university job fair, or possibly even avoided it due to the thought of the reality of what life would be like post graduation. You’ve applied to over 20 different jobs and they all hit you with the “we’ve decided to go in a different direction,” or better yet, “we’d like to hire someone with more experience.” How you supposed to get experience if they only want to hire people with experience?! You’ve probably heard no so many times that you forgot that yes was a word in the dictionary. Just when you start to lose all hope, a job finally pulls through. If it happens to be your dream job, be thankful that you’re one of God’s blessed and highly favored. For many of us, we take the first thing offered to us out of desperation hoping that if we just get our foot through the door of any job, it will buy us some time and keep searching for the job we’re really looking for.
3. Student Loan companies are looking at your graduation date with the Bird Man hands
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Student loan companies are extremely petty. You don’t hear from them for four years and all of a sudden they be the first ones to congratulate you on your upcoming graduation with the reminder that in just six short months, they will be expecting a nice repayment plan to be in effect. The amount of stress that that congratulatory email gives is comparable to the moment you realized that you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer so many years ago.
4. Not being able to see your friends on a consistent basis is tough.
These are the people who have seen us through the highs and the lows of our college experience. Bonds formed out of your freshman dorm experience, the sport/org./club you joined or the on-campus job you held. These people have seen you through some of your scariest moments and your brightest days. They know us better than our own family members. They were your homework buddy, your study partner, your cooking guru, the person you binge watched shows with. They pushed you to do your ultimate best and held you down when you were too depressed to get out of bed and make it to class. Bottom line: the separation anxiety is real. We set the expectation that we will continue to stay in touch as much as we can-and most times we do, but it just isn’t the same.
So what can you do?
I’ve only mentioned some of the things that threw me off my square post-graduation. I am sure that there are way more contributing factors to post-graduation depression and it looks different for everyone. When I first graduated, I was a few months out of a five-year relationship, and at the developing stages of a new relationship. I was starting a new job and moving to a new city. As I was trying to keep up with the fast-changing pace of my life post grad, I cut myself off from some of my closest friends and family. I completely shut down and went into auto pilot. I was filled with so much stress and anxiety and I tried my best to cover it up. I pretended to be excited for my new experiences, thinking that if I could fake it for a little while, I would actually start to feel better in real life. I was making new friends and moving through new experiences but it all felt unnatural. I got myself into such a deep spiral that by the time I came to, I was too embarrassed and ashamed to reach out to those closest to me to tell them what I had been going through and that I had been struggling. I was the friend that was consistent. I showed up for my friends when they needed me the most and the person that I had turned into was the complete opposite of that. I was mortified at how far I had stepped away from my original self. It took me a little while to recover, but here’s some of the things I did to get back on track.
- Identify the areas in life that were hard to process
For me it was all that I had listed above. I was so afraid of change that I mentally shut down. I had to identify where those feelings were coming from. I was so used to being busy with school, jobs and clubs that I did not give myself time to breathe in-between. When I finally had a moment to just exist, I didn’t take it well. I felt like all of the busyness of my life made my existence seem meaningful and productive. I had to come to terms with the fact that tasks did not define my existence. I had to channel my energy into what makes me feel whole outside of the busyness of my hands.
- Go back to what centers you
For me, that was my faith. I am driven by my faith in God and the hope that things get better with time. It was a difficult process for me because I had gone so far down a path of negative thinking that I had to completely reset my mind and counteract negative thoughts with things that I knew to be true despite how my situation looked or felt at the time. I had to go back into my bible and look at scriptures that gave me a sense of encouragement and strength. I know that everyone has different belief systems so I’d encourage you to seek what centers you the most whether that be a higher power, a favorite pastime/hobby or skill and start from there.
- Talk to your loved ones
This was probably the hardest thing I did in this process. I am the kind of person who needs to talk through things in order to process them so I decided this was something that I needed to do and it made me feel like I was getting back to my old transparent self. I had a level of pride that held me back from truly expressing my areas of lack and struggle, especially when I thought the image that I was projecting to my friends and family was one of consistency and support. I called/texted my friends and family whom I had isolated and tried my best to explain what I had been going through. The vast majority of my friends and family welcomed me with open arms and even prayed for me. It felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders which in turn helped me establish a better stream of communication with the ones I hold close.
- Carve out time to spend with older family members
That first summer post-graduation was rough! I remember making it a point to spend as much time as I could with my parents and grandparents because in my mind, they had this “adulting” thing somewhat figured out. I am so thankful for those moments with my family. They truly showed me compassion and that I was not alone in this world. I would just be up under them, invading their space like I was a little kid again. It was there that I found the most comfort. I encourage you to spend this time talking to someone older in your life who you trust. The life lessons shared will be something you carry with you for the rest of your life.
Although it was tough, I am thankful for my post-graduation experience. I learned and continue to learn so much about myself as I keep moving through life. If you’re reading this and can relate to any of these points, had a different post-graduate experience, or have some more tips to share, please feel free to leave a comment and share!
Yours in Authenticity